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"Boyhood" Is Sexist
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February 09, 2015, 06:00 AM
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One of the Academy Award frontrunners is “Boyhood,” a semi-autobiographical movie directed by Richard Linklater (“Dazed and Confused”) about growing up in Texas. It was shot a few days at a time over a dozen years, with the cast aging naturally.

It’s a cute concept and a nice movie, even if one lacking in incident. If I were running “Boyhood’s” PR campaign, I would get more people to write articles denouncing “Boyhood” for being about a white boy. The movie seems most interesting when it’s being attacked for what it is.

For example, from the Wall Street Journal:

What ‘Boyhood’ Shows Us About Girlhood

In Richard Linklater’s Oscar-nominated movie, a boy grows independent even as his sister loses her self-confidence

By SHARON MARCUS and ANNE SKOMOROWSKY

Updated Feb. 6, 2015 4:33 p.m. ET

The Oscars are coming, and Richard Linklater ’s “Boyhood,” already a critical favorite, is a contender for many of the big awards. As the title declares, the film is very much a boy’s coming-of-age story, but “Boyhood” is also about girlhood. Mason has a sister, Samantha, who grows up alongside him over the course of the 12 years it took to make the film.

Linklater cast his daughter as the boy’s older sister. Not surprisingly, at a very young age, Miss Linklater is already quite an entertainer. Initially, she distractingly overshadows the handsome little boy cast as the title character. As the years go by, however, the boy matures as an actor and can carry more of Linklater’s autobiographical movie.
For the first half of the film, as Mason dreams, Samantha competes with him. She dominates, teases and outperforms her younger brother (in reality, the actors playing the brother and sister were born only months apart). When Samantha first appears, she whizzes by Mason on her bike, calling him home for dinner. She taunts him by singing a Britney Spears song, speaking pig Latin and reminding him that he flunked first grade.

Even in early adolescence, Samantha remains outspoken, challenging her controlling stepfather about the pointlessness of dusting, worrying about her stepsiblings when he turns abusive and her mother flees the house.

But in the film’s last hour, Samantha starts to fade. Her speech and voice start to disintegrate audibly: She speaks less, signals uncertainty with the constant use of the filler phrase “I mean” and punctuates many of her statements with a nervous laugh. At Mason’s high school graduation party, she makes a toast only after being prompted to do so.

By contrast, as Mason gets older, he speaks in a loud, deep voice and expresses himself in well-formed sentences, unhampered by nervous tics and distracting phrases. The teenage Mason is full of ideas and grows in confidence with every passing year.

What explains these differences in their development?

Hormones?

Wrong!

Pivotal scenes in which adults confront each of them offer a key. In one, Mason’s photography teacher accuses him of laziness and gutlessness. “Who do you want to be, Mason? What do you want to do?” When Mason responds vaguely that he wants to make art, his teacher demands, “What can you bring to it that nobody else can?”

In an earlier scene, the mother confronts Samantha with a similar existential question after she has failed to pick Mason up after school: “Do you want to be a cooperative person, who is compassionate and helps people out? Or do you want to be a self-centered narcissist?”

Mason’s teacher pressures him to think about how he can express his individuality; Samantha’s mother offers a false choice: either help others or be an unlikable person. The boy is asked to take himself way too seriously, while the girl is chastised for a single instance of having put herself first. …

One of the achievements of “Boyhood” is to show us how girls are discouraged from putting themselves first. A boy can dream, the film suggests, but a girl…not so much.

—Dr. Marcus is professor of English and dean of humanities at Columbia University. Dr. Skomorowsky is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center.